Beijing chides Philippines for leading an ASEAN front against China

BEIJING (MindaNews/26 Sept) – Beijing on Monday chided the Philippines for its attempt to create a “united front” among other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly claimants in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), against China.

“The Philippines has lost its cool over the territorial disputes. It clamors for a united ASEAN front to blunt China, which appears to be a diplomatic illusion. On significant issues concerning territory and sovereignty, China will not scale back its claims and submit to external pressure,” the strongly worded editorial of People’s Daily, the Chinese government mouthpiece, said on Monday.

The editorial column, which was also published in other state newspapers in China, and even in North Korea, said the Philippine proposal to create a Joint Marine Peace Park will not prosper.

“During the meeting, maritime legal experts neither endorsed the plan for joint South China Sea development, nor confirmed the legal basis for the Philippine proposal. Two ASEAN members, Cambodia and Laos, did not even send delegates to the meeting. Such facts demonstrate the lack of consensus within ASEAN. There is no collective will to unite and confront China, especially among those who have no part in the South China Sea dispute,” it said.

Manila on Thursday led a two-day regional meeting among maritime and legal experts from the 10-member ASEAN to find ways how to counter the claims of China in the West Philippine Sea, which is described as the second Persian Gulf because of the believed huge amounts of gas and oil resources there.

A draft paper presented by the Department of Foreign Affairs during the meeting points out the establishment of a “joint cooperation area, or JCA, for the six Spratlys claimant-countries.”

The proposal also stated that countries can hold joint activities that could be undertaken, including search and rescue, oil spill preparedness, marine scientific research and other conservation projects in the non-disputed areas.

This also includes the withdrawal of soldiers in the areas to maintain peace and stability.

Bur China, which claims wholly the South China Sea under its U-shape nine-dash line demarcation, said the proposal is contrary to the peace effort that it is trying to create through bilateral talks with each claimant.

“It does not take a legal expert to conclude that the proposal is rife with loopholes. With several countries claiming whole or partial sovereignty over the waters, the attempt to plot one’s own exclusive economic zone does not conform to international law,” another editorial, this time from the state-owned China Daily newspaper, said.

Beijing said Philippines and Vietnam were making new waves of trouble in the disputed areas by inviting other non-claimants and superpower countries such as the United States, Japan and recently India to the issue.

“Despite their solemn vows to resolve disputes over the South China Sea peacefully by directly related parties, two of China’s neighbors, the Philippines and Vietnam, have been busy making more trouble lately. By repeatedly going back on their own word, they not only put their own credibility at stake, but also erode the political trust between them and China,” it said.

“Both have also made clear they are trying to invite outside forces into the issue as a bargaining chip. Such attempts are doomed to fail, too,” it added.

Beijing also warned the other nations from meddling in the issue, citing the ongoing state visit of Philippine President Benigno S. C. Aquino III meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, where both leaders are expected to discuss the West Philippines Sea dispute.

“Before Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s current visit to Japan, diplomats from both countries had engaged in talks over the South China Sea dispute. Backed by the US, the Philippines now tries to involve more regional players like Japan to collectively check China. But such efforts will be fruitless,” the People’s Daily said.

“Some regional countries may want to use the Philippines to balance China. But generally, the strategic significance of their relationship with China will overwhelm their need to play up to the Philippines. However, they will understand the potential risks if they become involved in the dispute,” it said.

China has advised Philippines to rather return in the bilateral talks with Beijing.

“Seeking a united regional stance to isolate China and, by doing so, win concessions will only prove futile. The Philippines has to return to bilateral negotiations over the disputed waters. The Philippines plays the regional meeting as a card. Nevertheless, if the Philippines really wants a showdown over the South China Sea issue, China has many more cards to play,” it said.

Beijing, which described the recent move of the Philippines as a “pure nationalist fantasy,” said that other ASEAN nations could not afford to sacrifice its relationship with China by agreeing to the Philippines’ proposal.

China, along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, has its own claims in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea. Efforts were made to solve the dispute but strong national interests have hampered any positive developments in the talks.

The Philippines, Vietnam and China have traded accusations in the past months over the dispute in the waters off West Philippine Sea.

Each country has showed their willingness to resolve the issue but the mode of resolving the issue differs. The Chinese government wants the issue to be resolved through direct bilateral talks, while the Philippines would rather want to bring the subject to the level of the United Nations.

The US Energy Information Administration has estimated that oil consumption in the developing Asian economies will rise annually by 2.7 percent from 14.8 million barrels per day to around 29.8 million by 2030 with China expected to account almost 50 percent of the growth demand.

The area of Spratly Islands alone is estimated to have 90 million cubic meters of natural gas and 440 million barrels of oils. The patches of islands are also being claimed – wholly or partly – by other ASEAN nations, notably Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia.

A confidential report released a by private risk and assessment firm said that “protracted multilateral territorial dispute is the foremost stumbling block in efforts to commercially develop oil and gas reserves in the region.” (Darwin Wally T. Wee / MindaNews)